I have been on-boarded into a new organization four times in my life. Two were OK and two were terrible. Having talked with many a learner about this experience and helped a few organizations develop on-boarding programs, it has always amazed me how poorly constructed these programs can be. The irony is that although the intent is to welcome and orient a new or advancing employee, the result is often the complete opposite. Many leave these programs overwhelmed, confused and anxious. With research supporting that the vast majority of employees make the decision to stay at a company within six months of joining, an effective on-boarding program carries more weight than most may realize. In the economy and world we live in today, hiring and retaining an engaged and productive workforce is more important than ever before.
Many on-boarding programs are simply too short and only focused on new employees. The process of joining a new company is an ongoing and evolutionary one. Some might even argue that it’s a process that never ends. Yet many on-boarding programs are three to five days in length, if that long, and are delivered in a way that implies that the process ends. Successful on-boarding programs need to be staged over the life of the employee and contextual within the workflow. Many organizations conduct their programs as if they feel that orienting employees to every aspect of the company gives those employees a great overview of all that the company does, when in reality it may confuse and blur their responsibilities. This doesn’t mean that a general overview of the history, mission and vision of the company aren’t important, but many of the department details that are shared can be better introduced over time as needed.
On-boarding programs need to be blended in the same way we’ve re-engineered our other offerings. They also should be made available for employees who are transferring within our organizations or being promoted. Navigating these new responsibilities is another form of on-boarding, and many assumptions and early mistakes can be avoided if these individuals are given the same degree of care that we offer to new employees.
The early days of joining an organization are consumed with myriad paperwork and processes that need to be introduced and completed. The problem is that we often go overboard, become overly focused on the HR procedures, systems and processes involved, and don’t support every aspect of what’s involved in being introduced to an organization. Much of the early days of joining a company are also spent becoming acquainted with colleagues, business processes and customers, as well as navigating the building itself. Many of the HR processes and related paperwork are better shown when needed and over time. Rather than taking employees through all that’s involved in completing these, employees could be shown how to find the correct information when needed. It’s more about orienting them to the overall purpose of these processes so they can be accessed at the right time.
Finally, on-boarding needs to be owned across the enterprise and enabled in the correct context, not seen as a checkbox that HR or a hiring manager presents in an isolated manner. The concept of on-boarding implies that employees will be introduced to an organization in a way that helps them understand their responsibilities in the best way possible. This is best done in context and should be supported by the tools and individuals who can add the most value. These resources often live outside of HR and the hiring manager’s responsibilities. We need to construct on-boarding frameworks that are employee enabled, supported and maintained. HR and training may provide the content that is found within it, but its application should be one that’s oriented around how and when the employee would best consume that information. These instances tend to be self-directed and rarely occur in the first five to 10 days of one’s employment.
On-boarding is yet one more area in learning where we need to move beyond an event-driven mentality. We’ve learned in so many other areas that if we take advantage of the many learning and support tools we have available to us, allowing us to spread learning out over time, our learners achieve a greater gain. The same applies for this critical discipline.
Bob Mosher is global chief learning and strategy evangelist for LearningGuide Solutions and has been an influential leader in the IT training space for more than 15 years. He can be reached at email@example.com.